A Cellar for Any Situation, Any Price
(Updated by Endah)
people come first. Now that we agree on that, good food and drink can help make any party better. Here are some suggestions for several possible types of gatherings. The suggestions are not rigid: if you see something you like better in another, go for it. Above all, these should be gifts to yourself.
¶ Romantic for Two
¶ “Love is all around,” as they sing in “Love, Actually,” one of my favorite Christmas movies (another is “The Ref,” not nearly so sentimental). Why not take advantage with a special dinner for two? Whatever menu you decide, sparkling wine to start is a must. You could drink it throughout the meal, or switch to red or white, or both. Don’t worry about finishing, just seal and pop the extras in the fridge. If all goes well, you may want to continue the celebration the day after.
¶ SPARKLING INEXPENSIVE France is awash in good sparkling wine, whether from Vouvray, Burgundy or Alsace. Émotion, a Crémant d’Alsace from Domaine Agapé, is about $20.
¶ MIDRANGE Michel Loriot makes a terrific Réserve Brut Champagne for about $35. Louis Roederer Brut Premier is an excellent mainstream Champagne for about $40.
¶ SPLURGE Taittinger Comte de Champagne, a superb blanc de blancs, may be the most undervalued tète de cuvee, about $125.
¶ GEEKY Céline et Laurent Tripoz make a delicious Brut Nature Crémant de Bourgogne, for around $20.
¶ WHITE INEXPENSIVE How about an assyrtiko from Santorini in the Greek islands? Argyros, Sigalas and Gaia all make good ones for about $20.
¶ MIDRANGE Perhaps a lovely, lightly sweet yet tense spätlese riesling from Germany? Willi Schaefer, Christoffel, Günther Steinmetz, A.J. Adam all make excellent bottles for $30 to $40.
¶ SPLURGE Great white Bordeaux is a secret weapon. Domaine de Chevalier is a favorite for around $125.
¶ GEEKY Is chenin blanc geeky? Some think so. I think it’s beautiful. Try a great Vouvray from Vincent Carême for $20 to $30.
¶ RED INEXPENSIVE The 2011 cru Beaujolais are great. Look for a Juliénas from Michel Tête’s Domaine du Clos du Fief for $20 or so.
¶ MIDRANGE I love the lithe, graceful nerello mascaleses from Mount Etna in Sicily. Calabretta, Terre Nere, Benanti are all around $30.
¶ SPLURGE This is the place for Burgundy or Barolo with a few years of age. For Burgundies, look for good premier crus from 2000, 2001 or 2006. For Barolo, look for ’99, ’98 and, if you’re lucky, ’95 or ’93.
¶ Nuclear Family
¶ Usually, the kids are in school or away at college and you’re working and lucky if you can get something hot and nutritious on the table for the 20 minutes that people will hold still. Now it slows down, the perfect opportunity to take a more rewarding emotionally and culinary approach to dinner. Fine wine for the grown-ups, a taste for the kids, hot mulled cider for afterward.
¶ WHITE INEXPENSIVE Savory Etna biancos can be as good as the reds. Benanti’s is around $20.
¶ MIDRANGE German rieslings are great dry, too. Look for Karthäuserhof, Von Racknitz, Knebel and Dönnhoff, $25 to $40.
¶ SPLURGE 2010 Meursault from Fichet, Colin-Morey, Roulot or Lafon, from $75.
¶ GEEKY Old-school white Rioja. The ’98 reserva Viña Tondonia from Lopéz de Heredia is about $40.
¶ RED INEXPENSIVE Pleasantly bitter Dolcettos from the Piedmont region of Italy. Anna-Maria Abbona or Luigi Einaudi are about $20.
¶ MIDRANGE A spicy Montsant from Celler de Capçanes for about $25, or an earthy St.-Joseph from Domaine Faury, about $30.
¶ SPLURGE Classic Napa cabernets with a little age, like Cathy Corison or Mayacamas, around $100.
¶ GEEKY In Côt We Trust is Puzelat-Bonhomme’s indefatigable take on Loire malbec, $20.
¶ Wine Friends
¶ You’ve got your dedicated wine friends, for whom no gathering is complete if not centered around a few interesting bottles. Perhaps you’ve heard about a new generation of winemakers in California who are conscientiously working to extend the state’s bandwidth, making wines that aim more for subtlety and finesse than power and bountiful fruit. How about a New California party? You could supplement with a gift of “The New California Wine,” Jon Bonné’s fine new book that explores the phenomenon. Forget the Geeky category; it all qualifies.
¶ WHITE INEXPENSIVE Martian Ranch makes good albariño in Santa Barbara County, about $20.
¶ MIDRANGE Matthiasson Napa Valley White, about $40.
¶ SPLURGE Kongsgaard The Judge, not exactly new wave but wonderful chardonnay, $150 or more.
¶ RED INEXPENSIVE Broadside Margarita Vineyard, excellent cabernet from Paso Robles, about $20.
¶ MIDRANGE Arnot-Roberts North Coast syrah, about $30.
¶ SPLURGE Rhys single-vineyard pinot noirs from the Santa Cruz Mountains, $75 or so.
¶ Extended Family and Friends
¶ Why not? You owe enough invitations. Get them all out of the way at once. It’s also a great opportunity for large-scale cooking, like a big pot of chili or stew, a choucroute garni, a ham, a pork or lamb roast. When’s the last time you made prime rib? This artifact of 1950s dining is due for a reimagined comeback (you heard it here first). Sorry, crowd, the Splurge category does not exist for you.
¶ WHITE INEXPENSIVE Mâcon-Villages remains a crisp, all-purpose refresher for $10 to $15 from producers like Vrac or Maison Champy.
¶ MIDRANGE Sancerre is the proverbial crowd-pleaser. Lucien Crochet, about $25.
¶ GEEKY I love dry furmint from Hungary. Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec is $15 to $20.
¶ RED INEXPENSIVE I’ve been on a Chianti jag; Selvapiana Chianti Rùfina 2010 is $15 or so.
¶ MIDRANGE Copain Tous les Ensemble syrah is a very good entry-level wine, $20 to $25.
¶ GEEKY If you can find reds from Dirty & Rowdy or La Clarine Farm in California, they are joyous wines for $20 to $40.
¶ Football Takeout
¶ Sometimes you and your pals just want to kick back. You don’t want to cook, but you can’t bear the thought of junk food and bad beer. Takeout is not an abdication of entertaining responsibility, provided you have options that rise above the mundane. Why not?
¶ SICHUAN A good Pilsner beer like Victory, Tröegs or Brooklyn; or if you want to go geeky, Manzanilla sherry.
¶ CANTONESE Riesling! Try Ravines dry riesling from the Finger Lakes for about $15 or a Hermann J. Wiemer semi-dry riesling, also about $15.
¶ PIZZA Champagne, believe it or not, like Billecart-Salmon for about $40, or an excellent Lambrusco, like a Saetti Salamino di Santa Croce for about $18.
¶ INDIAN Good cider, like Cidre Bouché from E. Dupont in Normandy, under $10.
¶ For reasons of travel, bad blood or simple inclination, many people end up alone for some or all of the holidays. This can easily justify a visit from the Grand Rationalizer, who will make the case for the quart of ice cream, just this once. But even better is the therapeutic salve of treating oneself well, preparing a favorite dish and accompanying it with just the right wine. I know, I know: wine is to be shared and so on. Well, why deprive solo diners? Nothing wrong with enjoying some wine, as long as it’s for pleasure and not to drown one’s sorrows. Drink something terrific.
¶ WHITE MIDRANGE Will Chablis always be our little secret? A good 2010 premier cru from Domaine William Fevre is around $30.
¶ GEEKY Radikon makes great, unorthodox wines from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Try a ribolla gialla in a convenient 500-milliliter bottle, about $45.
¶ RED MIDRANGE Earthy, minerally priorats are great expressions of the garnacha grape, as grenache is known in Spain. Camins del Priorat from Alvaro Palacios is about $25.
¶ GEEKY Olga Raffault always holds back so it can sell older Chinons. You can find its Les Picasses Chinon in vintages going back to the early ‘80s. The 1990 is around $60, the ’02 about $30.